COVID-19: wearing face coverings and masks

Changing Faces recommends that you follow the latest Government guidance on staying safe outside your home, including wearing a face covering as required. However, if you have a visible difference, we know this may be complex, and bring mixed feelings or additional challenges for you physically and/ or emotionally.

What are the issues?

Some people with a visible difference may find wearing a face covering or mask challenging, however others may find it comforting – and some may feel conflicted, experiencing both these feelings at times.

The ability to wear a face covering or mask may feel equalising and mean you feel less fear or worry in ‘facing’ the world. If staring, comments or questions are something you experience regularly in public, then this may be reduced by wearing a face covering.

However, the need to ‘hide-away’ or feeling this is being imposed upon you may feel negative, especially if you have worked hard on coming to terms with your appearance – and are rightly proud of yourself for this. Wearing a face covering or mask may feel like a loss of your self-identity.

For some, wearing a face covering or mask may revive anxieties about people behaving as though you are contagious or something to shy away from – or take you back to previous times of shielding – feeding into old feelings and worries you have already dealt with or learned to cope with.

On the other hand, if you feel safer behind a face covering or mask, you may worry this may delay some of the social anxiety you experience until people stop wearing these in the future, meaning your return to ‘reality’ may be delayed or compromised.

Everyone who can safely wear masks or face coverings should, but the national push to make this the norm may feel stigmatising for people for whom this isn’t an option. If your condition, mark or scar prevents you from covering your face in the advised way, or at all, you may feel anxious that people will notice or comment on this. You may feel worried that people will judge you or feel pressure to explain your reasons for not wearing a face covering or mask. You may also be worried about the physical impact wearing a mask or face covering has on your condition. Some people are exempt from wearing a face covering. To find out more, read the Government Guidance. This BBC article is also useful in giving more detail and context about the exemptions.

What can I do?

Here are some tips that you might want to think about as you consider the impact of wearing a mask or face covering:

  • Speak to someone. If you are feeling worried, anxious or upset, it may be worth explaining this to a friend, family member or colleague you are close to and explaining your feelings. You could also ask them to support you, for example by going with you when you first go out, to shops or on public transport for the first few times, to help you deal with any challenges.
  • Prepare yourself. It may help to write down the things that make you feel anxious or upset – and then consider how you have dealt with these things before; and remind yourself that you can do this. Think about your inner resources and your positive qualities, and the tips or techniques that have helped you before. You might like to talk all this through with a friend or family member.
  • Plan in advance. If you are travelling somewhere, plan your route beforehand and consider what challenges may arise for you. You may find it helpful to look at our Talking Confidently Tool. Planning ahead may give you a sense of control and increase your confidence. Find some relaxing things to do the night before to help manage any worry and anxiety.

If you want to learn more about the advice and support we can offer during the pandemic, please visit our COVID-19 resource hub.

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